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Where Are The Democrat Moderates?

The 2020 presidential campaign has officially kicked off and there are already at least nine Democrats, about half of whom you may have heard of, who have tossed their hats in the ring to compete for a chance to unseat Donald Trump. So far, the Democratic primary is shaping up to be a veritable freak show with one candidate who falsely claimed to be an American Indian, another who was endorsed by Klansman David Duke for her anti-Israeli politics, and a third who has advocated eliminating the entire private health insurance industry. The burning question for many Americans is, “Where is all the moderate Democrats?”

Even though the public face of the Democratic Party leans sharply left, that isn’t necessarily true of Democratic voters. CNN exit polls show that in the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats not only won nine of ten liberal voters, they also won almost two-thirds of moderate voters, the largest share of the electorate. If that weren’t enough, in what might be described as the Trump effect, Democrats won 16 percent of the conservative vote. Other polling supports the idea that Democratic voters are not as liberal as their party leadership. FiveThirtyEight notes that almost half of the Democratic Party (47 percent) identify as moderate or conservative. In 2016, at least a quarter of Democratic primary voters said that they were moderate or conservative. Despite their success with other ideological groups – or more likely because of it – liberal Democrats now feel that the time is right to put forth a radical agenda of tax increases, government expansion and attacks on farting cows.

What this means is that the Democrats on the verge of repeating the same mistake that President Trump made. This also happens to be the mistake that Barack Obama made that led to Trump’s election.

The misconception made by both parties is that a rejection of the other party does not constitute an embrace of your party’s most radical ideas. The rejection of Hillary Clinton’s continuation of the Obama Administration was not a blank check for the Trump Administration to enact an unfettered right-wing populist agenda. By the same token, when voters fired the Republicans in 2008, they did not intend for Democrats to enact a far-left wish list. This is especially true considering that Barack Obama campaigned as a post-partisan moderate.

If Democrats want to build on their success in 2018, the smart bet would be to back a candidate who would have broad appeal. Instead, the candidates who have generated the most interest so far are all fire-breathing champions of far-left ideas. These ideas may be popular in the liberal enclaves along the West Coast and in the Northeast, but they are unlikely to gain much traction with voters who are representative of flyover country.

The good news for those who don’t want to see Democrats nominate a far-left candidate in 2020 is that it is unlikely that the current crop of nine hopefuls will be the only Democrats running. Joe Biden, the potential candidate who consistently leads preference polls of Democratic voters, has not declared his candidacy yet but seems likely to do so.

Biden has run for president twice before in 1988 and 2008 but stepped aside for Hillary Clinton in 2016, a decision that he almost certainly regrets. Hillary was eventually shown to be such a weak candidate that Biden could probably have won both the Democratic nomination and the presidency. Since 2016, he has engaged in a war of words with President Trump that kept him in the news. In addition to being one of the more moderate voices in the Democratic Party, Biden is a proven quantity with elder statesman status. After two presidential campaigns and two vice-presidential campaigns, there are unlikely to be any hidden skeletons in Biden’s closet. It is also worth noting that Biden performs best in head-to-head polling with President Trump.

If Biden decides against running, there are other possibilities for a moderate Democratic nominee as well. In fact, there are already moderates in the race, you just probably haven’t heard about them. One is Pete Buttigieg is the mayor of South Bend, Indiana and a former naval reserve officer who served in Afghanistan. Buttigieg attracted the attention of David Axelrod when he campaigned for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee in 2017. A second moderate already in the race is John Delaney, who was a congressman from Maryland until he retired this year.

Another moderate generating buzz is Amy Klobuchar, a Democratic senator from Minnesota. Klobuchar has a reputation for reaching across the aisle and is one of the most conservative Democratic senators. Klobuchar apparently has other candidates concerned. A preemptive attack on her candidacy was launched this week with allegations that she was verbally abusive to her staffers.

The “other” Democratic hopefuls from 2016 may also return for another try. Lincoln Chafee, a former governor of Rhode Island, Jim Webb, a former Virginia senator and Secretary of the Navy, and another Marylander, former Governor Martin O’Malley, would also appeal to moderates. Chafee, Webb and O’Malley may be waiting to see what Biden decides for launching their own campaigns.

It will be tempting for liberal activists to look at Donald Trump and think that the time is ripe to push forward with a radical candidate and agenda. Given the president’s weakness in the polls, a radical candidate might be successful at defeating Mr. Trump, but the safe bet would be to nominate a candidate with broad appeal. It would be easier to expand the Democratic voter base with a positive pitch than to win an election with the message that our candidate isn’t great but Trump is worse.

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